Interview with Matt Doran, ABC News, Afternoon Briefing
23 September 2022
MATT DORAN: Welcome to Afternoon Briefing, thank you for joining us this afternoon. It’s rare to see politicians in parliament on a Friday but condolence motions for the late Queen have been made in both the House and the Senate. A lot of discussion about the future of the monarchy in Australia. What have you picked up in hearing those comments being made by some of your colleagues?
JANE HUME: I thought today's contributions were really respectful. Many people spoke about their personal interactions with Her Majesty, or with the now King Charles. It was really nice that people very much personalised their condolence motions. But we also had opportunities to look forward and there were some different views across the chamber. Certainly in the Senate, we're still going in the House of Representatives. I think all of the debate was held very respectfully today. There will be plenty of time for that to come. In the meantime, this is a real opportunity for both chambers to reflect and give thanks for an extraordinary reign by an amazing monarch.
MATT DORAN: I want to touch briefly on the big story up-to-date which is the massive data breach at Optus, one of the biggest companies in the country. The ABC revealed that human error may have been at the heart of this data breach. How concerned do you think Optus customers themselves and more broadly, the Australian public should be about this sort of incident taking place?
JANE HUME: Well, I think we were all shocked this morning when we heard about the fact that nearly 9 million Australians data have been breached through this cyber attack at Optus. Optus have come clean and been as upfront with Australians as they possibly can be at this point in time and certainly the Opposition, the Shadow Minister Cyber Security has asked for a briefing from intelligence agencies on the extent of this breach. What we haven't heard, though, is anything from the relevant Minister. Clare O'Neil has gone to ground and probably I think for those 9 million Australians it's important that Minister O'Neil comes out and gives them some sense of security, some sense of comfort, that this is not going to happen again, that it was reported entirely appropriately, and that agencies have been dealing with the breach appropriately.
MATT DORAN: We have heard from the Defence Minister, though Richard Marles is also the Deputy Prime Minister. He would of course also have some oversight in this area as well, given the cyber security ramifications there. And he says that government agencies are working closely with Optus given us so early in the situation. Isn't that the appropriate response from the government at this stage?
JANE HUME: Well I think the most important thing is that the Minister for Home Affairs gives some comfort to those 9 million Australians who are feeling quite unsure at the moment. Now we know that Optus has said that it's only certain types of data that's been breached. But we want to make sure that security agencies back that up and can confirm that. Also those 9 million Australians want to make sure that this isn't going to happen again. This is really the responsibility for the Minister for Home Affairs, and she seems to have gone missing in action.
MATT DORAN: Let's move into the I guess, pre-budget discussions that we're seeing obviously been sidelined while the Queen's passing has been observed but certainly will ramp up again as we get into Parliament returning next week. The Coalition has been very critical of the government saying that it does not have a plan to tackle the cost of living crisis that's hitting so many Australian households. Yet the Coalition is also reluctant to be putting forward any ideas about what it thinks should be part of that cost of living response. Why is that?
JANE HUME: Well, that's in fact, not the case. In fact, just after coming to opposition one of the first things we did was put forward a pension worker bonus policy that would have allowed older Australians who were on fixed incomes to return to work to take on extra days and extra hours without losing any of their pension that would have helped not just pensioners who would their cost of living issues, but also it would have helped fill those skills gaps, those labor shortages that have been of such concern, particularly to Australia, small businesses. Now, that policy has been around now since June this year, and yet the Labor government have chosen to ignore it. In fact, they didn't even discuss it until the Jobs and Skills Summit. They have come up with their own policy which is less generous, less effective, and likely to have less take up. We find that very disappointing indeed. But what we've heard this week from Jim Chalmers and from Katy Gallagher, is in fact, that there is a $50 billion turnaround in the budget. Now this is good news, but you wouldn't know it from the way that Jim Chalmers was speaking. In fact, they have record terms of trade, they have record low unemployment and a $50 billion turnaround in the budget. And yet all we heard about was the need for increased taxes and increased spending. But that's not the right approach. The RBA are continually putting rates up. Philip Lowe has warned that he will have to continue to do so, particularly if the messages that he's getting from the government mean that fiscal policy is moving in a different direction to monetary policy. Back in the days of the COVID crisis two years ago. The Coalition Government at that stage made sure that both fiscal policy and monetary policy were moving in the same direction that's so important that consistency of policy in fiscal policy moves in one direction and monetary policy moves in the other. Well, that means monetary policy has to be pulled that bit tighter. Of course, that means interest rates rise that affects that one third of Australian households that have a mortgage, about a third that are renters, about a third that own their own home outright, but that one third of Australians that have Australian households and have a mortgage will be disproportionately affected unless this government sends out those signals that fiscal rectitude is on its way.
MATT DORAN: We're looking at, there's a lot to unpack there. But let's have a look at what Jim Chalmers was saying about how he is constrained when it comes to his budget. He is saying that it's not going to be a budget where there's going to be big spending measures because that would start to undo the work of the RBA and lifting interest rates to try to curb inflation. You're suggesting that he should be putting money out there into the system?
JANE HUME: Well, in fact that during the election campaign, the Labor now government promised about $45 billion worth of off budget spending and about $18 billion of on budget spending that was well above what the Coalition was talking about in the lead up to the election. Now they want to implement those election commitments, but at the same time, they said that they're quite big spending commitments, but at the same time, they don't want to upset the budget balance. What does that mean? Their idea, Labor's idea of a bread and butter budget is always going to be high tax, high spend.
MATT DORAN: But there isn't any comment from the government about increasing taxes, is there? Where are you drawing that assertion from?
JANE HUME: I think you can take that as an inference, can't you. There is going to be a continued increase in spending, they're already setting up the scene for that. And now they're talking about having national conversations about the tough issues that we're going to face ahead. What is most important now is that we see the Labor government ensure that its fiscal policy is working in line and in conjunction with monetary policy that will mean that the pressure is off the RBA to do all the heavy lifting in economic recovery.
MATT DORAN: So what specifically do you think the government should be doing?
JANE HUME: Well, that's the government's decision. They've got an awfully big agenda, an awfully large wishlist of spending opportunities, and they've already announced some of them but I'm sure that there's more on the way. It's entirely up to the government to work out what it is that it needs to do in order to rein in spending, rein in its ambitions so that fiscal policy works in line with monetary policy.
MATT DORAN: Let’s pick up on one policy briefly before we lose because we are running out of time, the issue of childcare rebate reform. We know that that is a central plank of Labor's election pitch, they’re now in government and that legislation will be introduced next week we understand. Is that an area that the Coalition could get behind expanding access expanding coverage for childcare rebates to more Australians as a way to ease some of those heavy costs in that sector?
JANE HUME: Well, there's a couple of issues there Matt. One of them is that, that won't kick in until at least halfway through next year. The cost of living issues are facing Australian families right now. And we want to know what the Labor government is going to do about cost of living issues right now.
MATT DORAN: But on the principle?
JANE HUME: On the principle of increasing childcare rebates, when we were in government, the Coalition increased childcare rebates for families with two or more children that were in care at the same time. So we understand that childcare is a significant cost to Australian families and makes a big difference to participation rates in the workforce. What the Labor government is saying is that it's actually a productivity measure. Now, I'm not entirely sure that that is the case. I haven't seen any modeling to demonstrate that an increased childcare subsidy is in fact a productivity measure. Participation, yes, certainly at the margins, but what it does to productivity is yet to be seen. When Labor came to office, they promised quality spending quality programs, and that's how they justified having an increase in the deficit. I think that that remains to be seen as to whether that's the case.
MATT DORAN: So picking up on your first point there, if it came in earlier you'd be more inclined to back it?
JANE HUME: Well, we haven't seen the legislation yet. But they've said themselves that it's not coming in any earlier. That it won't come in, even though there was pressure from I think it was a New South Wales Government to have it start on the first of January. Jim Chalmers has already ruled that out. So it will start in the middle of next year.
MATT DORAN: Jane Hume, thank you for your time today.
JANE HUME: Great to be with you Matt.